6. Art, Age And The Chacma Baboon

Dear Sade,

Art can weave one into some strange webs as I discovered after being invited to give a talk on creativity to a group of senior citizens. Arriving at the venue where I was to give my 'performance' I was astounded to find over 350 people waiting to hear this artist's attempt at public speaking. A public address sound system had been installed for the occasion and I subsequently discovered that it was governed by a very specific law, namely Murphy's Law. During my address when I got onto a roll or just before the punchline of a joke I was relating, the system emitted a frightening screech that sounded like the battle cry of the African Chacma Baboon. Whenever this happened a little old fellow who sat at an appointed place next to the offending Sony speaker, gave it a kick - Dwak! - after which the show went on. During my talk I noticed that quite a number of elderly folk in the audience were asleep with their eyes open - 70 or so year's practice makes one pretty adept at this sort of thing. Ah, you say, how did I know they were asleep? Well, it was simple. Every time the sound system did its Chacma Baboon Thing the 'sleepers' went balistic doing a sort of impromptu geriatric Mexican Wave. All this I had to encounter on an empty stomach, but worse was to come... Sade, to give you some insight into my predicament that fateful morning, here is an excerpt from my talk: "I believe that truly great art is often born out of adversity, not leisure. To illustrate this...(SCREEECH......... out comes the foot of the Professional Speaker Kicker.....DWAK!...)"... thank you. To illustrate this I would like to remind you all of the wonderful scene in that great old movie ...(SCREEECH...... DWAK!)"...thank you, that great old movie: 'The Third Man', when Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) says...(SCREEECH... DWAK!)"... when Harry Lime says something like this: "During the Renaissance in Italy when it was encountering war, turmoil, upheaval and catastrophe what did this country produce? (SCREEECH.... DWAK!) "...Italy gave us the masterpieces created by Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. At the same time in Switzerland during a period of tranquility and great stability what did this country produce? (SCREEECH... DWAK!) "...Switzerland gave us the cuckoo clock!" No one in the audience stirred, reacted or laughed. "Oh no." I thought. "The whole place is full off Swiss people and at this moment I'd rather be in the House of Usher." Ah, but then I noticed a kind old man smiling and I was grateful that at least one person appreciated the point I was trying to make. It then dawned on me that he had drifted off and was probably having a pleasant dream. Shortly after concluding my devastating talk (to clapping just loud enough to wake the sleepers) I was confronted by a lady who appeared to be a leading contender for the Nobel Prize for Anger.She fumed...: "I'll haf you know young man," (I was 48 at the time) "I um vrom Swizzerlund und in my coontry during ze Renaizzance ve had many, many great arteests." As cordially as I could I told her that the particular opinion expressed in my talk was Harry Lime's and not my own. In a further desparate attempt to console her I added that the contemporary artist whom I most admire is the Swiss painter Mona Arnold. All to no avail. Mrs. Fire-Eyes gave me a mighty "Hmmphff" and as she marched off I could almost hear the Swiss National Anthem. I remembered that some people are just born complainers as is aptly described in the aphorism coined by Hebbel: "There are persons who always find a hair in their plate of soup for the simple reason that, when they sit down before it, they shake their heads until one falls in." Anyway, I was pleased that at the time I did not ask the Swiss lady to name the great artists from her country who equalled their Italian counterparts. Some things are best left unsaid. "C'est la vie, say the old folks, you never can tell," sang Chuck Berry on my car radio as I drove back to my studio. Washing down three aspirins with a Grapetizer I reflected on what I had just subjected myself to in the name of art. And, as I write this I feel a sense of melancholy as I recall those old people in the audience. Sade, my greatest wish is that when I reach their age I will be to you an inspiration and not an irritation. If ever I am asked to address senior citizens on art again I will decline in favour of finding a river where I can fish for trout, watch the ducks and nibble on home-made fudge. C'est la vie.

Love Gramps
November 1998

P.S. Sade, one day you may recall that in the mountain behind our house live 22 Chacma Baboons. Vlodder, our Scottish Terrier also goes balistic when she hears them.